Diabetes is characterized by β cell death and/or dysfunction. Currently, one promising treatment option for patients with diabetes involves replenishing the body with β cells to restore glucose homeostasis. Despite great progress using in vitro differentiation protocols to generate human β cells from stem cell populations, there are still challenges associated with generating fully functional β cells. To improve this therapeutic strategy, my studies are focusing on defining the role of cell signaling pathways in pancreatic islet cell specification. Genetic studies in fish, mice, and humans have demonstrated that retinoic acid (RA) is broadly required for pancreas development; however, the role of RA signaling in pancreatic endocrine cell specification remains unclear. By examining the role of RA using in vivo endocrine-specific inhibition of RA signaling at critical time points during pancreas development, we demonstrate that inhibition of RA signaling in the endocrine progenitor population results in the generation fewer β and increased Δ cell genes by embryonic day (e)16.5. These defects persist after birth and are accompanied by overt hyperglycemia in the adult. Whole transcriptome analysis further indicates that cross-talk between RA signaling and the Wnt pathway is important for islet cell specification. In addition, we show that RA signaling is also important for human β cell specification. Together, these data demonstrate the importance of RA signaling in the endocrine progenitor population and provide a framework to more clearly define the mechanisms by which RA signaling directs endocrine cell fate in mice and humans. Future studies on the role of RA and its interacting pathways during pancreas development will better inform strategies to treat diabetes using cell replacement therapies.
D. Lorberbaum: None. L. Sussel: None.
American Diabetes Association (1-18-PDF-107 to D.L.)